Oversight Committee Steps up Investigation of DOE and EPA Over Treatment of Hydraulic Fracturing

January 19, 2012

Request to Energy Department asks for transcribed interviews with senior officials

Letter to EPA spotlights internal communications suggesting bias against recovery technology and plans to regulate it

(WASHINGTON)—The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has requested transcribed interviews with senior Department of Energy (DOE) officials regarding DOE efforts to examine the alleged risks and economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing. The Committee also expanded its investigation into Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) practices regarding the regulation of fracturing.

“After making numerous accommodations to the Department, DOE’s continued lack of cooperation led the Committee to issue a subpoena for the requested documents to DOE on October 5, 2011. Since the issuance of the subpoena, DOE has unlawfully continued to refuse to supply all of the relevant documents listed in the subpoena. DOE does not have the legal right to pick and choose the parts of a congressional subpoena with which it will comply,” Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) wrote in the January 19 letter. DOE has separately informed The Committee that one reason for withholding documents is based on objections from EPA based on the agency’s proprietary interest.

The letter, a copy of which is available here, requested transcribed interviews with the following personnel:

1. Timothy G. Lynch, Acting General Counsel and Deputy Counsel for Litigation and Enforcement;

2. Christopher Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary for House Affairs;

3. Brandon Hurlbut, Chief of Staff;

4. Amy Bodette, Assistant to Secretary Chu;

5. Ian Adams, Assistant to Secretary Chu;

6. Renee Stone, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy; and,

7. Mackey Dykes, White House Liaison.

In a separate letter sent the same day, Chairman Issa asked Administrator Lisa Jackson to explain documents obtained by the Committee that “appear to indicate that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning for a future where new supplies of natural gas are limited because of the agency’s concern about the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.”

The letter sent January 19, signed by Chairman Issa and Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Regulations and Procurement Reform Chairman James Lankford (R-OK), asked Jackson to outline “EPA’s views on hydraulic fracturing and whether you have prejudged that hydraulic fracturing poses an environmental threat, even before the agency has completed a congressionally-mandated review of the practice.

The letter said that “[a]ccording to documents obtained by the Committee, it appears that EPA is preparing to regulate the practice of hydraulic fracturing in such a way as to make it an unreliable method of obtaining natural gas. The documents reveal a dispute between EPA and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) staff during the interagency review of the Utility MACT rule.”

Issa and Lankford’s letter added, “Emails show EPA staff indicated to FERC that EPA would not recognize the Commission’s estimates of the quantity of natural gas reserves—including natural gas recovered by hydraulic fracturing… It appears that EPA rejected the possibility of more abundant natural gas reserves from hydraulic fracturing due to concern about ‘environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.” In response to FERC, EPA refused to alter its projections of natural gas availability resulting from hydraulic fracturing.

“EPA’s statements suggest the agency does not believe hydraulic fracturing will be a reliable method for extracting natural gas in the future due to potential regulation,” the letter said. Issa and Lankford pointed out that Administrator Jackson’s Committee testimony on May 24, 2011, included remarks “clearly meant to demonstrate to the Committee that EPA was not planning to limit hydraulic fracturing due to environmental concerns.”

The letter, a copy of which is available here, included seven questions about the apparent conflict in testimony and EPA communications as well as the agency’s views on fracturing as a technology that can provide new domestic energy supplies and create jobs.

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